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Darfur: Steps to stem further violence urged

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator urges steps to stem further violence in Darfur

The humanitarian situation in the strife-torn Darfur region of Sudan could get even worse in the coming days if the international community fails to take immediate steps to ensure the implementation of recent peace accord between the Sudanese Government and rebel forces, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator warned today.

“The next few weeks will be absolutely critical for millions of people in the region,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told a Security Council meeting in New York after his week-long visit to Sudan and Eastern Chad, where he said violent attacks on civilians and humanitarian workers are continuing despite the peace agreement.

Though cautiously optimistic about the prospects of peace, Mr. Egeland did not rule out the possibility of further violence and bloodshed in the region. “There is real hope that we are turning the corner,” he said of the peace efforts. “But we can still enter a downward spiral that will put millions even further into chaos.”

He cautioned that in the face of more violence and attacks, humanitarian operations could not be sustained and relief agencies would have to withdraw, warning that “within weeks, not months,” people in some areas in Darfur could face more deaths and hunger than before. Fighting between the Government, pro-government militias and rebels has killed scores of thousands of people in Darfur and uprooted 2 million more in the last three years.

Mr. Egeland urged the Security Council to take immediate steps to strengthen the African Union force, known as AMIS, and speed the transition to a UN operation. He also called for efforts to bring on board those who have not signed the peace agreement.

“I am deeply touched by seeing so many displaced people,” he told reporters after briefing the Security Council on the Darfur situation. “Their future is now in the hands of the Security Council.”

Noting that more than 3 million people in Darfur are currently depending on humanitarian aid for their survival, he called on the international donor community to provide more funding for the ongoing relief activities in the area.

“Feeding centres have had to be closed, food cannot be distributed, staffers are being reduced, teachers in camps are no longer being paid and internally displaced people no longer have access to health care in hospitals,” he said, adding that the lack of funding is hindering humanitarian work in Darfur.

The appeal for Darfur is short of $389 million, while the total shortfall for the rest of Sudan under the UN work plan for 2006 amounts to $983 million, he said, adding that so far many vital sectors have received less than 20 per cent.

Although some nations such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States increased their funding for Darfur this year, other important donors have given much less than what they had donated last year, Mr Egeland said, adding that certain countries have failed to pay enough attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

He said the UN World Food Programme (WFP) needs an additional 53,000 metric tonnes of cereals for September and October to cover the entire “hunger season.” Given the four months lead time for food deliveries, he stressed that additional pledges “are needed now, not in one or two months.”

The funding situation, according to Mr. Egeland, is also posing serious risks to the security of humanitarian workers in the region. “The attacks against relief workers have been relentless, and are threatening our operations in many areas,” he said. “Our staff, compounds, trucks and vehicles are targeted literally on a daily basis. As a result of these attacks, nowhere near enough assistance is getting through.”

The threat to the safety of relief workers and civilian population in Eastern Chad is as serious as in Darfur, he said, noting that in recent weeks at least 13,000 fled from Chad to Darfur to escape the continued fighting and attacks by militia and rebel groups.

“Something has to be done urgently,” Mr. Egeland told the Council. “The next few weeks will make or break. We will regret if we failed to do everything we can right now.”

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